Identification of Plasmodium falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale and P. malariae and detection of mixed infection in patients with imported malaria in Italy

New Microbiol. 2003 Jan;26(1):91-100.


The species-specific nested-PCR previously described by Snounou and others for detecting the four parasite species that cause human malaria is evaluated in the current study testing 230 blood samples. The results are compared with those obtained by microscopy and, for 101 samples out of 230, with those previously obtained by a genus-specific PCR based method (pg-PCR) followed by species-specific Southern-blot hybridization. All blood specimens were obtained from patients (127 foreigners and 103 Italians) with a suspect clinical diagnosis of imported malaria in Italy: 76 were positive by microscopy and 83 were positive by nested-PCR. The last method also revealed 10 double infections (8 foreigners and 2 Italians) which were not identified by microscopy or by pg-PCR with species-specific Southern-blot hybridization. Fifty-four out of 83 positive samples tested by nested-PCR were submitted to genomic sequence analysis, which confirmed the presence of DNA region portion encoding the 18S rRNA corresponding to the Plasmodium species identified by nested-PCR. These results demonstrate that the nested-PCR assay surpasses microscopy and pg-PCR with species-specific Southern-blot hybridization, both in sensitivity and in diagnostic accuracy. Moreover, it is quicker because it requires no further blotting or hybridization of PCR amplification products. This method also offers a clear advantage in the detection of mixed infections, which is important not only for successful medical treatment but also for the study of malaria epidemiology. Finally, our study also highlights the value of genomic sequence analysis for validating PCR results.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA, Protozoan / chemistry
  • DNA, Protozoan / genetics
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Malaria / blood
  • Malaria / diagnosis
  • Malaria / parasitology*
  • Plasmodium / classification*
  • Plasmodium / genetics
  • Plasmodium / isolation & purification
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 18S / chemistry
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 18S / genetics
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA, Protozoan
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 18S